A BJP leader, who is pursuing the politically sensitive Rs 64 crore Bofors pay off case, today urged Attorney General K K Venugopal to direct the CBI to make its stand clear in the case as barely three days are left for the crucial hearing in the Supreme Court on February 2. In a letter to Venugopal, advocate Ajay Agrawal, who contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Rai Bareli against then Congress President Sonia Gandhi, alleged that “a wrong and motivated decision has been taken not to file any reply in the matter”. His letter assumes significance as the Attorney General, who has advised the CBI not to file an appeal, advocated that the agency should “canvass its stand as respondent” in the 12-year-old pending criminal appeal in which the notice was served to the probe agency on November 8, 2005. Venugopal had opined that CBI should not file a special leave petition (SLP) in the apex court as over 12 years have elapsed and any SLP filed before the court was likely to be dismissed on account of the long delay itself. However, Agrawal in his letter to the Attorney General, alleged that the decision not to file reply in his matter has apparently been taken at a junior level and “it is being ensured that the Bofors case collapses in the Supreme Court.” “I have to tell you very frankly that it is possible that some officers have connived with the accused persons and are bent upon to derail the case,” he wrote, adding that “the officers responsible for this need to be identified and criminal proceeding be initiated against those who have connived with the accused persons to derail the matter.” The BJP leader, who is arguing the matter himself in the apex court, said he has written three letters to the CBI Director since October 21, 2017 that the agency, instead of filing the appeal itself, should support his matter as a respondent with all necessary documents.
The appeal filed by Agrawal had taken a curious turn on January 16 when the apex court, 12 years after admitting his petition, had asked him to explain his locus in filing an appeal as a third person. The top court had said that when the CBI has not filed any appeal in the apex court challenging the May 31, 2005 Delhi High Court judgement, how could a private person file an appeal in the matter. Justice R S Sodhi of Delhi High Court, since retired, had on May 31, 2005 quashed all charges against the three Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand — and the Bofors company, castigating the CBI for its handling of the case, saying it had cost the exchequer about Rs 250 crore. Before the 2005 verdict of Justice Sodhi, another judge of the Delhi High Court, retired Justice J D Kapoor, had on February 4, 2004, exonerated the late prime minister and directed the framing of charge of forgery under section 465 of the IPC against Bofors company.
The Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was entered into on March 24, 1986. Swedish Radio on April 16, 1987, had claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel. The CBI on January 22, 1990 had registered the FIR for alleged offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under the Indian Penal Code and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, the then president of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and the Hinduja brothers. It had alleged that certain public servants and private persons in India and abroad had entered into a criminal conspiracy between 1982 and 1987 in pursuance of which the offences of bribery, corruption, cheating and forgery were committed.
The first charge sheet in the case was filed on October 22, 1999, against Chadda, Ottavio Quattrocchi, then defence secretary S K Bhatnagar, Ardbo and the Bofors company. A supplementary charge sheet was filed against the Hinduja brothers on October 9, 2000. A special CBI court in Delhi on March 4, 2011, had discharged Quattrocchi from the case saying the country could not afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which had already cost Rs 250 crore. Quattrocchi, who had fled from here on July 29-30, 1993, never appeared before any court in India to face prosecution. He passed away on July 13, 2013. The other accused persons who died are Bhatnagar, Chadda and Ardbo.